Last summer and fall, a bipartisan redistricting committee spent dozens of hours dividing Spokane County into five commissioner districts.
Fair districts would reflect the county’s overall 55%-45% Republican-Democrat split, committee members agreed. So they settled on a map they hoped would create two likely Republican districts, two Democratic ones and a swing district that leans to the right.
They seem to have gotten exactly what they wished for.
Following Tuesday’s primary election, Democrats are the clear frontrunners in Spokane County Commission Districts 1 and 2, which cover east and west Spokane.
The Grand Old Party has a commanding 53-point lead in District 3, which includes northern Spokane County and half of Spokane Valley. In District 4, which covers southern Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake and the county’s southeastern third, Republicans can’t lose – the Democrats didn’t even field a candidate.
District 5, which combines the upper South Hill, northwest Spokane and the West Plains, is living up to its swing district label. Democrat Maggie Yates leads with 46% of the vote, but Republicans Al French and Don Harmon managed a combined 51%.
For the most part, everything’s going exactly as the redistricting committee planned.
“I’m not terribly surprised,” said Robin Ball, a member of the redistricting committee and the county Republican Party’s state committeewoman.
But Ball added a caveat. She’s a little taken aback by how well Democrat Amber Waldref did in District 2, the east Spokane district.
“I thought it would be closer,” Ball said.
Waldref, a former Spokane City Councilwoman, leads the race with a comfortable 56% of the vote. Republican Michael Cathcart will head into the general election as the underdog after taking 32%.
Brian McClatchey, one of the two Democrats on the redistricting committee, said he expected Waldref to have a strong showing.
“I wasn’t shocked at all, and here’s why,” McClatchey said. “Something like 60% of the voters in that district live south of the river.”
Cathcart, a sitting Spokane City councilman, has name recognition in much of District 2, McClatchey said, but he’s never been on a South Hill ballot. McClatchey said that makes the area “treacherous territory” for the conservative.
Waldref almost swept voting precincts south of Sprague Avenue, while Cathcart and the other two GOP candidates had better luck farther to the north and east.
District 2 might not look as competitive as Republicans hoped, but voters in District 5 did what the redistricting committee members thought they’d do.
“In Al’s race, no surprises,” Ball said.
French, an incumbent commissioner with two decades of experience as a local politician, may have to campaign hard in the run-up to November if he wants to retain his seat on the county commission. Still, he said he likes his odds, given the Republican Party overall got 52% of the vote.
Yates, who formerly led Spokane County’s criminal justice reform efforts, received strong support on the South Hill and also won precincts in northwest Spokane and Cheney. GOP candidates won all of the rural areas, plus one South Hill precinct and more than a handful in northwest Spokane.
“We all thought that was going to be a swing district, and it’s acting like a swing district,” said McClatchey, who’s now serving as Yates’ campaign treasurer. “Anything can happen in a swing district.”
Neither Ball nor McClatchey was surprised by the results in District 1, the west Spokane district.
Democrat Chris Jordan, a lawyer in the Washington state attorney general’s office, won all but two precincts south of Francis Avenue. Republican Kim Plese, a former print shop owner, won all but three precincts to the north.
Overall, Jordan has 57% of the vote to Plese’s 43%.
Republican Josh Kerns, an incumbent county commissioner, dominated in District 3 as anticipated, although even he was a little surprised to take 76% of the vote compared to 23% for the party-less Wild Bill Schreiner.
Mary Kuney, Kerns’ fellow incumbent, got good news on election night, too.
She has 57% of the vote and will face off in the general election against Valley Assembly of God pastor Paul Brian Noble, who took 28% of the vote in his political debut.
Kuney took nearly every urban voting precinct, while her challengers, Noble and Republican Chris McIntosh, fared better in the less populated, rural areas.